Soldier Boy 'just wants the accolades and he wants to live the life of a celebrity and be adored and be idolized, in all his toxic masculinity,' the actor says.
For 15 years, Jensen Ackles played half of an iconic demon-hunting brother duo that literally saved the world — multiple times. Dean Winchester on Supernatural was an everyman, but he was also a superhero of sorts: The elder son protecting his little brother when his father was out on the road grew up saving as many people and hunting as many things as possible and became a vessel for an archangel. How does one follow up such a role? For Ackles, it's by playing a literal superhero on Prime Video's The Boys.
Ackles steps into the third season of the Emmy-nominated drama from creator and showrunner Eric Kripke (who also created Supernatural) as Soldier Boy, a superhero who became such a celebrity he "could basically do whatever he wanted," Ackles tells Metacritic.
The leader of a team called Payback, Soldier Boy was known as a World War II hero who went on to star in movies, release music, and make important appearances. Until a trip to Nicaragua went terribly wrong in the 1980s.
As the third episode of the third season explains, during that trip, Payback and American troops were ambushed by Russians, who supposedly had a weapon that was strong enough to kill the all-powerful Soldier Boy. They took his body and their weapon and absconded, and the world mourned their fallen hero, with his team disbanding and Vought International building upon that celebrity with The Seven and putting all of their new hopes on Homelander (Antony Starr) as the most powerful of the supes.
But Soldier Boy's story doesn't truly end there. As Kripke previously told Metacritic, The Boys introduced "the myth" of Soldier Boy before the man, but the man is still very much around. And although he has been through it, he still holds onto some very deeply ingrained character traits displayed in the media footage and flashbacks.
"He's from a time that has been forgotten. I like to say he's an analog hero in a digital world. But he's also not going to assimilate; he is not gonna conform," Ackles tells Metacritic.
Here, Ackles talks to Metacritic about Soldier Boy's fight style compared to Dean Winchester's, the character's biggest challenges in stepping back into the world at this time in society, and if he has had discussions about also coming aboard The Boys as a director.
I have to start by asking for comparisons between Dean Winchester and Soldier Boy, specifically their fighting styles and your stunt training.
I will say that the years and years and years of of fighting and stunt choreography and stunt rehearsals and just all around the stunts on Supernatural certainly gave me a great foundation for working with this character and working with the cast and the stunt crew. John Koyama, who was our stunt coordinator on The Boys, I think at one point he was calling me the fight coordinator. [Laughs] 'Cause I was just making suggestions. And he was always like, "Yes, yes, do that!" So I will say a lot of that came in handy.
But as far as the style of it, I would say [Dean's] fighting style was blunt-instrument style. There wasn't a lot of finesse to it, even though sometimes they try to finesse it and work in some military style jujitsu and stuff thinking that maybe John had taught his boys certain fighting styles. So, we would try to emulate a little bit but not over the top. Soldier Boy had none of that: This is just straight up, "Punch people as hard as you can." But at the same time, he's got superpowers, so his his strength is far beyond that of any mortal. Having that to play with a little bit was was fun and it was also shocking to me. For instance, there's a sequence where Payback shows up in Nicaragua, and we get to this whole fight sequence, and I come in and start fighting off the bad guys. And at one point I turn around and I swing my shield, and the stunt guy that I swing at, he's on a wire and he literally just goes flying through the roof and disappears off into the ether. It was so jarring for me just as a human being to swat somebody and have them fly away. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Definitely a different beast but the 15 years definitely came in handy.
You put yourself through a workout regimen to bulk up for the show and those stunts. Why did you want to do that, rather than rely on padding or VFX?
I was in L.A. in the fall of 2020, and they were building me this super suit. They just see what kind of things fit my my body and my forearms and my chest and shoulders, and they have a design, and I had to come back here. I had about half a dozen different fittings to make the suit, but halfway through that process, I asked our suit designer L.J. [Shannon], "Are you gonna put in padded stuff to make me look big and built?" And she just very sweetly and sincerely looked me in the eyes and patted my arm and said, "Oh, honey, you're gonna bring me some muscles in April." I don't think I've talked to her about this since then, but literally, in my head, my ego goes, "Challenge accepted!" And so, that was it. I was like, "Well, if I'm going to be a superhero, I guess I should look like one." And it was tough. It was COVID and there were no gyms open, so I just got some free weights and went to town, Rocky style.
How do you compare personality traits of Dean and Soldier Boy, especially around mommy or daddy issues?
Dean idolized his father, even though his father was arguably a very untraditional and probably an absent father. But he was his hero. Whereas Soldier Boy, I think he just has issues all around. He was created in a lab, essentially, and his father is Vought. And so, what what they made him is very similar to what they made Homelander. They gave him this false sense of of strength and security and popularity and heroism that really he doesn't know how to navigate, and he is pretending to be something that he truly isn't. But because he was groomed to be that way, that's all he knows and that's all he understands. So I think they're very different, although you could argue that Dean is a bit of his father's Soldier Boy in that world. But the two very different, and I also approached it very differently. Dean was somebody who was fighting the good fight and doing things for the betterment of man, whereas Soldier Boy, he's just out for himself. He doesn't care. He just wants the accolades and he wants to live the life of a celebrity and be adored and be idolized, in all his toxic masculinity.
It's interesting that you phrase it that way because he's stepping into a world where that celebrity is not necessarily the case anymore, because he's been gone for so long. What did you consider his biggest challenges in being in the world again?
This is another kind of dialogue about our current culture: There's a feeling from some people, certainly the older generation, that "Our America is being stolen or being taken away or it's changing." And so, Soldier Boy is certainly of that mindset of, "What have they done to my America? What have they done to my world? They've ruined it. They've slapped it shiny stickers [on it] and covered it in glitter. It's not the world that I that I know; it's not the way it should be." I don't necessarily know that he is out to make America great again. But I feel like if he was around long enough, he might wear that hat.
Do you want to return to the show as Soldier Boy or even as a director in future seasons, and were there discussions about you directing in Season 3 but it was just too much with you also stepping into the show as an actor for the first time?
How Soldier Boy happened in the first place [was] I told Kripke, "I will be a part of this show in any capacity, way, shape, or form. What what do I need to do?" So yeah, I had an amazing time. I had a lot of fun playing this character, I certainly had a lot of fun playing with this cast of characters, and I really do enjoy the show; I'm a fan myself. So, if Eric calls and says, "Hey, I need you to do A, B, and C, I'll say how quickly do you need it?"
There was never any any discussion about directing [in Season 3], there hasn't been necessarily about coming in in that capacity, but there's been discussions about, "Where's Soldier Boy going to fit in with some of these other shows that are spinning off?"
You always have The Winchesters to direct!
That I do. That, I think they're going to have to wrestle me away from.
The Boys Season 3